Part 1 of this series explored the different ways to support children in their play through a neurodiverse lens. Just because we don’t understand their play doesn’t make it any less valid, and this is crucial in provisioning an inclusive environment for all children in our Early Years settings.
This time, Kerry Payne discusses four key strategies that support practitioners to develop their observation skills for SEND. Research led by the Froebel Trust in 2019 found that children do not always receive the same amount of observational attention, meaning that many traces of learning can be lost. This included children who used less spoken language, were more active, and those who did not have clear outcomes (products) of play.
By developing a pro-neurodiversity lens, practitioners commit to observing more deeply and in doing so support children to flourish.
Practitioners will often approach me asking for advice about moving away from the deficit model to SEND. It is important that when we carry out observations of children with SEND, we use a celebratory framework. This means that we capture a holistic profile of the child's development instead of focusing on what they’re lacking.
The steps to this are as follows:
Once we have established this framework, we encourage a more positive mindset when thinking about SEND support. It’s important to remember that this framework is not about introducing more paperwork formats, but this can be built into your everyday planning systems.
From the above diagram, you can see that this framework for thinking helps us to reflect more positively and proactively about children’s traits, personality and characteristics of play and learning. This provides the springboard for effective support. It helps us to reposition the child with SEND from ‘problem’ to learner. This framework also helps us to have celebratory discussions with parents and families who may be accustomed to only ever speaking about their children on their “worst days”.
It would be unwise to suggest that we should overlook all concerns and simply embrace differences. We have an important responsibility to support children and ensure they have access to the right support if they need it.
However, don't be too quick to turn play traits into symptoms. The case study below highlights how play mapping can support your curiosity while also making sure you keep possible concerns in mind.
If at first you don't observe, try and watch it again.
In the busy chaos of nursery life, there are times when we miss the many traces of learning that are going on for children. Video observations are a useful way to find those traces of learning. These videos can be short and sweet, or slightly longer.
Having the time and space to watch back and reflect can help you spot things that may not have been clear in the moment. They are also a good opportunity to share with children to see their learning in action.
If you don’t feel comfortable with video observations, request some from the parents - they often have a multitude of videos of their children. This can also be beneficial as you observe children in different contexts.
When we are supporting a child with SEND, we may struggle to understand the personal meanings of their play. This can be frustrating, particularly if we are unsure how best to support and scaffold their learning.
Conducting joint observations with a trusted colleague, SENCO, or parent can be an invaluable process for developing a network of perspectives that may differ from your own. Joint observations often have parallels and many differences as we each observe through our own frame of reference and experience.
I believe that we have a huge opportunity in the Early Years to reimagine play, neurodiversity and early intervention. Many of the discussions around embracing differences are important, and even though they’re sometimes uncomfortable, they’re often gateways to growth.
I hope my two-part series article ignited some new thinking, challenged some old, and highlights that inclusion is ever-evolving.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.